Hard Kombucha Is This Summer’s Drink of the Moment

Put down the White Claw and pick up the new hip sip

Something’s brewing. Kombucha, the somewhat effervescent fermented tea, has long been loved for its digestive benefits. Now it can also get you tipsy.

By adding more sugar and yeast to the fermentation process, canny entrepreneurs have been able to take the naturally slightly alcoholic beverage from .5 percent alcohol by volume to upward of 4.5 percent, roughly on par with a light beer or a hard seltzer, but with a funkier flavor.

“[It] tastes great,” says Larry Hartel, who cofounded the L.A.-based Jiant Kombucha with a college pal in 2017.

“We wanted to create these nuanced flavor profiles that could really complement food,” adds Jiant cofounder Aaron Telch. The brand is sold at Whole Foods, BevMo and trendy restaurants like Highly Likely, Gracias Madre, and Broad Street Oyster Bar.

hard kombucha

Courtesy JuneShine

On the e-commerce platform Drizly, “hard kombucha,” as the boozy ’bucha is known, was the fastest-growing category in 2020. And according to Kombucha Brewers International, hard kombucha sales grew from $1.7 million in 2017 to more than $12 million in 2019.

Another pair of college friends are behind another SoCal brand, JuneShine. Forrest Dein and his former roommate, Greg Serrano, first started brewing in 2018 in a garage in San Diego. They have two tasting rooms in that city and this past April opened an airy L.A.-area outpost (2914 Main St., Santa Monica) that’s decidedly more Goop than granola, with chic interiors, tasting flights, and charcuterie boards. Dein says he saw a need for alcoholic beverages that had the same openness about ingredients as health foods. “There were just no clean, organic, transparent products in the alcohol space.”

Yet another label, Flying Embers, also has a unique sense of style. The Ventura-based company launched in 2018. Last fall, it opened Flying Embers Brewery & Social Club (1581 Industrial St., Arts District) in a historic downtown warehouse building. And a few months back, it collaborated with local artist Dewey Saunders on a special edition can. Still, for all the attention to thoughtful design and transparency about ingredients, hard kombucha is only so wholesome. After all, it’s still alcohol.

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